Once, in our Neighbourhood, lived a certain old man, whose name none could really tell. We lived in that type of settlement where neighbours are not friends.
Oldman was the name everyone called him and the name became a favourite to kids and folks alike. As kids, we loved Oldman as we loved candies. Upon himself, he took the task to lock the gate every night. He became so permanent a sight that with him, age seemed to have taken flight. We met him as kids and grew into young adults only to notice; Oldman did not at all change. His moustache and the complementing beard served to complete the image of a sage, like Methuselah, whose picture our imaginative minds gave a grey appearance. It was a wonder, to those that did ponder, how, throughout our years of growing up Oldman remained unchanged in age and gait. Sturdy and stout, he would stand, like a rock, contemplating the world at a glance. He wore the same clean and faded clothes, every night, like an official uniform. Talk about his stride, he would take a step in what seemed like a life time, as the Ijele masquerade does, depicting the universe in motion.
From which household he always emerged, none of us quite gave a thought. In the day time, we didn’t ever see him, and no one ever bothered. We knew, for certain, he would come, passing by our houses in the night, with snail-like dignity, whistling a melodious tune. Oldman had a peculiar phrase, a stereotype response to the ‘Goodnight Oldman’ thrown at him from every compound. He would reply, “Night my people; night is so deep a mystery that every day-light must give way to it”. He would repeat this response, often mechanically, as many times as the number of family houses lined up on the path between wherever it was he always came from and the gate.
One very sad night, Oldman’s daylight gave way to night, eternal night…. He died. And that night every household was affrighted that Oldman did not pass their door-post on his ritual journey to lock the gate. A sort of dread, a nagging horror, seized us, when it became obvious Oldman would not cross. We mourned the demise of our Oldman. Yes! Indeed, he was our Oldman. He meant more to us than a man that locked our gate. He was a friend, an unobtrusive friend. It wasn’t until after his death that we discovered that he had actually belonged to us. It was an adult secret that Oldman didn’t have a place he could call his own. He slept in the verandas of any of the houses along the way to his gate, when the inhabitants must have been long asleep. He would sleep and leave before first cock-crow the following morning and always made sure not even a film of dust remained to tell of his presence. Until we became adults, we did not hear the story of the Oldman being told even in whispers.
Little did we know how attached we had become to the presence of the Oldman until his death left a vacuum; a yawning hole that left us naked and distraught. In our little community where no one was a friend to the other, we lost the only person that was a friend to everyone